“Congenital or Acquired – Which Would You Choose?”

Jan 19, 2011
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Which is a bigger challenge; living with a disability since birth or acquiring a disability over the course of a lifetime?  Congenital versus acquired disabilities.  In my career, I typically see more people who have acquired disabilities at some point in their life journey.  One elite cyclist I know, was 19 and riding his bike when he got hit by a car – leaving him a quadriplegic, a Policewoman and was shot by a criminal trying to escape a leaving her a paraplegic, a third was a semi-pro baseball player who played the position of catcher and got hit in the head by a bat that was released after making contact with the ball – leaving him with a seizure disorder, paralysis and memory loss.  These life-altering accidents not only affected the lives of these individuals but also their parents, spouses, children, siblings and other loved ones.  Relationships ended, plans had to be changed and life goals were refocused on physical therapy and gaining back independence as oppose to living a life as a professional athlete or retiring with a large pension.  Some people with acquired disabilities count the number of years pre and post injury, to remember how many years they were walking (for instance) versus how many years that they have been in a wheelchair.  Others who want to fully embrace their current status only celebrate the number of years that they have been disabled – because that is the only number of relevance for them.

People with congenital disabilities are born with their disability and live with it everyday of their lives.  They have not known a life without their condition and this causes many to believe that their life as a person with a disability is an easier one to inhabit.  I myself fall into a third category and that is acquiring a chronic illness as a child.  I was diagnosed at the age of 8 and because of that I don’t remember much of my life before my disability.  Medical professionals always told my parents that they were ‘lucky’ that I was diagnosed before puberty, because children in puberty were angry and less compliant with the control of their disease.  I do remember as an 8-year-old, the day the nurse came into my hospital room to show me how to give my own shots.  She told me that I would have to give myself a shot everyday.  I looked at her with my sad little 8-year-old face and said “Everyday for how long?” and she replied “Everyday for the rest of your life”.

Regardless of how you became disabled, what matters most is how you are living your life in spite of your disability.  Are you fighting a good fight?  Do you work to maximize the good days that you have with your health and minimize the bad days filled with pain?  Do you take the right steps to ensure your quality of life like exercising regularly, following a balanced nutrition plan and seeing your medical professionals when necessary?  Are you a powerful charge in your battle for independence and health or are you a passive victim suffering from your medical challenges?  Regardless of whether you were born with your disability or you acquired it at some point in time – this choice remains.  Who will you choose to be?

Author: Elizabeth



  • Kwiley01

    Elizabeth, thank you for offering this important perspective about disability – speaking from someone who is in the shoes!

  • BobLujano

    Either way, be thankful with what you have (or don’t have) and keep moving forward. Attitude is everything! Great piece! Thanks Elizabeth.